Extracted from: JAN the JOURNAL By Hanfred Rauch Published by: Jan Hendrik Journal (Pty) Ltd Available online at www.janthejournal.com for R292.50 and at select Woolworths stores. © Jan Hendrik Journal (Pty) Ltd Page 139 - ‘These Streets’
Iremember when Joburg was an endless sprawl of M, N and R motorways, linked by a complex network of thoroughfares named after historic figures from a bygone era. For a stranger, which I was – an idealistic young writer with no history in this city and no discernable landmarks like a mountain or ocean to anchor me – I found myself, at times, lost.
It was a city built for the automobile, an invention that, for all its ingenuity, began to deny the citizens of the 20th century metropolis certain rites of passage: driving in from the suburbs, we no longer greeted the day to the smell of freshly baked bread drifting from the corner bakery. The romance of the past – stolen glances across a station platform and overheard intimacies between lovers – has all but disappeared, to some extent robbing us of our connection with one another.
Drawn to the allure of a more pedestrian life, I gravitated to the antiquated streets of Europe, where I lingered for many years. And when I did eventually return home, I chose Cape Town, South Africa’s oldest city. Seldom, during this time, did my mind wander to the city of gold, and so, I didn’t realise just how much it was changing.
I returned for the first time, more than a decade later, for business. Mid-morning, as the plane touched down at O.R. Tambo, I was overcome by an unexpected flurry of excitement. Making my way to the Gautrain platform – just as I had done on stranger shores – it became immediately apparent to me that something in Jozi’s fibre had shifted. I had returned to a city liberated by an air of optimism. Hypnotised by the reflections in the windows of the arriving carriages – like alternate realities flitting by, daring me to explore what might have been – I felt an old familiar stirring of possibility.
Unencumbered by the concept of traffic, and with nowhere to be until that evening, I decided to let the Gautrain guide me. At Sandton Station, I felt like I had arrived in a new place where, oddly, the voices around me seemed so familiar. To my left, two colourful women discussed their lunch plans in Anglo-xhosa. To my right, my eye caught that of an upright gentleman – immaculately dressed in a style reminiscent of the jazz age. Jo’burg had been revolutionised by an overwhelming sense of pride. I wanted more.
Emerging from the depths of Park Station to the hustle and bustle of downtown, it was hard to believe that the journey from the airport took only half an hour. Despite the exhilaration I felt at my imminent adventure, I did an instinctive, subtle sweep of my pockets – a reminder that, no matter where you find yourself in this world, the taste of electricity in the air also signals a warning. All there, I assured myself.
Without thinking, I hopped onto the Gautrain bus bound for the Standard Bank Art Gallery, where I remembered attending an exhibition of the largest collection of Picassos I had ever seen, years ago. What exactly was I seeking, I wondered?